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Physical and Cognitive Development in Middle Childhood



Guidepost 1: What gains in growth and motor development occur during middle childhood, and what nutritional hazards do children face?

  • Growth slow in middle childhood, and wide differences in height and weight exist.
  • Children with retarded growth due to growth hormone deficiency may be given synthetic growth hormone.
  • Proper nutrition is essential for normal growth and health.
  • The permanent teeth arrive in middle childhood. Dental heath has improved, in part because of use of sealants on chewing surfaces.
  • Malnutrition can affect all aspects of development.
  • Obesity, which is increasingly common among U.S. children, entails health risks. It is influenced by genetic and environmental factors and can be treated.
  • Concern with body image, especially among girls, may lead to eating disorders.
  • Because of improved motor development, boys and girls in middle childhood can engage in a wide range of motor activities.
  • About 10 percent of schoolchildren's play, especially among boys, is rough-and-tumble play.
  • Many children, mostly boys, go into organized, competitive sports. A sound physical education program should aim at skill development and fitness for all children.
  • Many children, especially girls, do not meet fitness standards.

Guidepost 2: What are the principal health and safety concerns about school-age children?

  • Middle childhood is a relatively healthy period; most children are immunized against major illnesses, and the death rate is the lowest in the life span.
  • Respiratory infections and other acute medical conditions are common. Chronic conditions such as asthma are most prevalent among poor and minority children.
  • Children's understanding of health and illness is related to their cognitive level. Cultural beliefs affect expectations regarding health care.
  • Vision becomes keener during middle childhood, but some children have defective vision or hearing.
  • Most children who are HIV-positive function normally in school and should not be excluded from any activities of which they are physically capable.
  • Accidents are the leading cause of death in middle childhood. Use of helmets and other protective devices and avoidance of trampolines, snowmobiling, and other dangerous sports can greatly reduce injuries.



Guidepost 3: How do school-age children's thinking and moral reasoning differ from those of younger children?

  • A child at about age 7 enters the stage of concrete operations. Children are less egocentric than before and are more proficient at tasks requiring logical reasoning, such as spatial thinking, understanding of causality, categorization, inductive and deductive reasoning, conservation, and working with numbers. However, their reasoning is largely limited to the here and now.
  • Cultural experience, as well as neurological development, seems to contribute to the rate of development of conservation and other Piagetian skills.
  • According to Piaget, moral development is linked with cognitive maturation and occurs in two stages as children move from rigid to more flexible thinking.

Guidepost 4: What advances in memory and other information-processing skills occur during middle childhood?

  • Although sensory memory shows little change with age, the capacity of working memory increases greatly during middle childhood.
  • The central executive, which controls the flow of information to and from long-term memory, seems to mature between ages 8 and 10.
  • Reaction time, processing speed, selective attention, and concentration also increase. These gains in information-processing abilities may help explain the advances Piaget described.
  • Metamemory, selective attention, and use of memory strategies improve during these years.

Guidepost 5: How accurately can schoolchildren's intelligence be measured?

  • The intelligence of school-age children is assessed by group or individual tests.
  • IQ tests are fairly good predictors of school success but may be unfair to some children.
  • Differences in IQ among ethnic groups appear to result to a considerable degree from socioeconomic and other environmental differences.
  • Schooling seems to increase measured intelligence.
  • Attempts to devise culture-free or culture-fair tests have been unsuccessful.
  • IQ tests tap only three of the "intelligences" in Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences.
  • According to Robert Sternberg's triarchic theory, IQ tests measure mainly the componential element of intelligence, not the experiential and contextual elements.
  • New directions in intelligence testing include the Sternberg Triarchic Abilities Tests (STAT), Kaufman Assessment Battery for Children (K-ABC), and tests based on Vygotsky's concept of dynamic testing.

Guidepost 6: How do communicative abilities and literacy expand during middle childhood?

  • Use of vocabulary, grammar, and syntax become increasingly sophisticated, but the major area of linguistic growth is in pragmatics.
  • Despite the popularity of whole-language programs, early phonics training is a key to reading proficiency.
  • Metacognition contributes to reading comprehension.
  • Acquisition of writing skills accompanies development of reading.

Guidepost 7: What influences school achievement?

  • Because schooling is cumulative, the foundation laid in first grade is very important.
  • Parents influence children's learning by becoming involved in their schooling, motivating them to achieve, and transmitting attitudes about learning. Socioeconomic status can influence parental beliefs and practices that, in turn, influence achievement.
  • Although the power of the self-fulfilling prophecy may not be as great as was once thought, teachers' perceptions and expectations can have a strong influence.
  • Historical philosophical shifts affect such issues as amount of homework assigned, methods of teaching math, social promotion, and computer literacy.
  • The superior achievement of children of East Asian extraction seems to stem from cultural factors. Minority children may benefit from educational programs adapted to their cultural styles.

Guidepost 8: How do schools meet the needs of non-English-speaking children and those with learning problems?

  • Methods of second-language education are controversial. Issues include speed and facility with English, long-term achievement in academic subjects, and pride in cultural identity.
  • Three frequent sources of learning problems are mental retardation, learning disabilities (LDs), and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Dyslexia is the most common learning disability.
  • In the United States, all children with disabilities are entitled to a free, appropriate education. Children must be educated in the least restrictive environment possible, often in the regular classroom.

Guidepost 9: How is giftedness assessed and nurtured?

  • An IQ of 130 or higher is a common standard for identifying gifted children. Broader definitions include creativity, artistic talent, and other attributes and rely on multiple criteria for identification.
  • Minorities are underrepresented in programs for the gifted.
  • In Terman's classic longitudinal study of gifted children, most turned out to be well adjusted and successful, but not outstandingly so.
  • Creativity and IQ are not closely linked. Tests of creativity seek to measure divergent thinking, but their validity has been questioned.
  • Special educational programs for gifted, creative, and talented children stress enrichment or acceleration.

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